The second half of the debut episode benefits from a Thora Birch Bounce  Also, despite not really being one of the Twilight Zone’s dreaded “humorous ” episodes, it has some good laughs in it. Some are intentional, some are not, but all are good fun.
The problem with episodes that feature despicable characters or skin-crawling scenarios is that you are stuck with them. Maybe the situations evolve; or, better yet, the characters experience agonizing deaths, but you still have to suffer through 30 minutes of them. The chaos and shouting and shrill noises here could have been as unbearable as a Hillary Clinton stump speech. Luckily the goodwill of the humor and the lovely Melinda Dillon (Penny) save the episode from being the excruciating nightmare that it could have been.
The episode opens with everyone’s nemesis, the alarm clock blasting at the oddly specific time of 6:31. One of their kids has turned it up to concert hall pitch. Breakfast isn’t much better. Although the bacon frying and coffee percolating aren’t too irritating, the blaring radio, phone, stove timer, an imbalanced washing machine, four kids, a husband and a dog ratchet up the anxiety.
It is funny enough when her young son brings a snake into the kitchen. It is awesome when his sisters react with a yawn — a major 180 from what you expect. To top it off, he sneaks the snake onto the grill to fry with the bacon. Just great stuff. Bacon, I mean; but the snake bit was great too.
While doing a little gardening (to the tune of her neighbor’s chainsaw), Penny digs up a necklace with a watch on it. That afternoon after a hectic trip to the grocery store, spilled milk, and an idiot husband, she clasps the watch and screams, “SHUT UP!” To her shock and awe, there is immediate silence as everyone freezes.
This scene, which could have been a big nothing, manages to be charming and efficient. Unlike The New Exhibit where still photos were used for some static shots, here the performers were just told to stay still — or in the dog’s case, just stay. And yes, they actually used a live shot of the dog. He moves slightly, but pulls it off better than the kids. Their slight movements can’t help but make you smile, though. They must have had a ball doing this.
The efficiency comes in the editing of several quick bits by Penny to determine what caused this miracle, how to turn the world back on, the location of the necklace, etc. The episode surprised me by having her husband actually notice that she changed positions as she switched them on and off.
The next morning, Penny uses the miraculous device to save lives and rob big evil banks to help the homeless. No, wait, she uses it to have a quiet breakfast and bogart the last box of Choco-Poppers at the grocery store. To be fair, as she is leaving the store, she puts a few filthy bills in the manager’s mouth.
In the parking lot, she sees a man who looks like he just came from the tennis court; or douche convention. Penny hems and haws before girlishly touching his butt (which would be sexual assault if a guy did it). But the real thing that caught my eye was this twerp as a one-man band of 1980’s horrors: the men’s shorty-tennis-shorts, the sweater draped over the shoulders, the sunglasses on a rope around his neck. If they had panned down, I predict a 50% chance of leg-warmers.
That afternoon, she is visited by two attractive, earnest young people wishing to impart the wisdom of their 2 years since high school to her. They invite her to a debate about ridding the world of nuclear weapons. All three agree that nukes are icky, but that isn’t enough for the two kids. If Penny doesn’t go their debate, well she’s just a poopy-head. She kindly and non-violently gets rid of them in a scene well-performed by her (the guy is awful, though).
That night as Penny is luxuriating in a bubble bath, she hears a new annoying sound — an air raid siren. Her husband calls her in to hear the news that Soviet missiles have just entered US air space. She stops time and for some reason decides to take a stroll downtown in her robe. It is an eerie site as she weaves her way around frozen people and stopped vehicles. She sees several people who are looking at the sky. Looking up, she sees a nuclear missile just a few hundred feet from vaporizing her town.
That is the last shot of the episode, but it is a great ending as it leaves you wondering what happens next. What could happen next?
-  Any movie or TV episode with Thora Birch starts out a winner with me. Thora is not in this episode, but the same principle applies to Melinda Dillon. Thora got there first so the phenomenon is named after her.
-  For equal time, the next time I need a comparison for something childish or dumb as a post, I’ll reference Donald Trump.
- Classic TZ Homage: A Kind of Stopwatch also had the ability to freeze the universe. I knew this tag was going to get a workout.
- At age 10, Judith Barsi (Bertie) and her mother were murdered by her father. The previous year in Fatal Vision she had portrayed Kimberly MacDonald who was murdered along with her mother and sister by her father Jeffrey MacDonald. Maybe.
- The missile is framed over a theater showing the underrated Fail Safe and the overrated Dr. Strangelove — both based on the same book. [UPDATE] Correction in Comments.
- Of course, the science is ludicrous. The entire universe can’t just stop, the sun burns, atoms bounce around. That’s fine — Stephen Hawking didn’t write the script. He could have acted in half of it, though.
- Melinda Dillon was born in Hope, Arkansas 7 years before Bill Clinton.
- So, probably not.